In Defense of Jennifer Lopez

Perhaps it’s the bold stage persona, the giggly disposition in interviews and all the glitz and glam that prevent people from viewing Jennifer Lopez as an underdog. But there is something to be said about a woman who has scratched and clawed her way to the top of the entertainment industry all while fighting off criticism from the press, the fans and even fellow entertainers. That is the story of Jennifer Lopez.

From the outside looking in, it kind of seems like Jenny from the Block has it all. The woman is a living legend, who casually rubs elbows with Donatella Versace and has dated some of the world’s most prolific men. So when she bares her soul and lets us into her world as she did in Halftime—the new Netflix documentary about her Super Bowl halftime show—and the primary response is vitriol, I feel it’s time to re-evaluate some things.

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Jeff Kravitz / Contributor/Getty Images

A few weeks ago when the documentary debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, one of the most prominent headlines to come out was that J.Lo didn’t want to share the stage with Shakira. “This is the worst idea in the world to have two people do the Super Bowl,” the Bronx native was quoted saying. “It was the worst idea in the world.” With that, Twitter did what it does best and was absolutely appalled at the fact that Lopez—seemingly self-righteous and self-aggrandizing—would not want to be on the same stage as Shakira.

Some users even sarcastically agreed with her, saying she was absolutely right and that they would’ve rather had Shakira take on the whole thing by herself. It was a valid response from those who adore the Colombian-born songstress. I can totally see how, when you read that headline as a Shakira fan, you’d come to the same conclusion. But it was an incorrect assessment of the situation. A conclusion made without full context.

If you watch Halftime, what Jennifer Lopez is trying to say is that she and Shakira were being slighted. In years past, the Super Bowl has had one headliner and that person has then brought on guests to feature in their set. That wasn’t the case for them. What Lopez was saying was that she and Shakira both had hefty enough catalogues and the rapport with the masses to individually headline the show. If they were going to have a double headliner, then the Super Bowl should’ve given them more time. What the Super Bowl was essentially telling the world was that they needed two Latinas to do the work typically done by one person and that was insulting to both women. That’s what Lopez was biting back against in the doc. However, when a singular quote is pulled, then given context at the bottom of a click-bait-y article, the streets of Twitter can’t help but be outraged.

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Rich Fury / Staff/Getty Images

But that has pretty much been the norm for Lopez’s entire career if we’re all being honest. She’s been a tabloid magnet, constantly objectified, diminished and ridiculed for the sake of clicks, views and magazine sales. One of the most cringeworthy moments of the documentary was a montage where interviewers—late night hosts and entertainment journalists alike—were obsessively asking about her ass. “How do you feel about your butt?” one interviewer asked her. “You did not just ask me that!” she quipped. “I did,” he firmly responded. That moment was disturbingly reminiscent of another clip where 16-year-old Britney Spears was asked—by a grown man, on national television—about her boobs. It was invasive, predatory and only shows that Lopez, too has been subjected to the same misogyny as her pop star peers. She may have just handled it better.

Not only that, but because she’s been so successful, it has often been lost on us that Lopez has repeatedly been a victim of the racism that plagues most trailblazers. (Honestly, if it hadn’t been highlighted in Halftime perhaps I wouldn’t have even realized.) South Park consistently poked fun at her, even parodying “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” with their rendition called “Taco Flavored Kisses.” *Face palm.* One skit from Late Night with Conan O’Brien had a maid and an intern play Lopez and Ben Affleck, while one colorful quote from a publication seemingly chastised Affleck saying, “[You] don’t get friendly with the help, let alone marry them.” It’s the kind of commentary that today would get people canceled, but for some odd reason, press surrounding Halftime has mostly been antagonistic toward J.Lo and not at all sympathetic.

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Dia Dipasupil / Staff/Getty Images

And still, she’s holding her head high. But perhaps that’s been the public’s prickly point with her. Unlike Britney Spears who has visibly had a hard time with being a superstar and paparazzi magnet, Lopez has rolled with the punches to the point where people think she’s in on the joke. She hasn’t had any public meltdowns, nor has she angrily criticized the press. She has, for the entirety of her career, put her head down and gotten to work, hoping that by proving she’s a hard worker the world will perhaps learn to appreciate her a bit more. That sadly hasn't always worked out.

It seems like the more successful she’s become and the more barriers she’s broken, the more the industry refuses to give her a break. Society has decided that critiquing her and diminishing her life’s work is punching up and unharmful, but in actuality it takes a toll. “I just had a very low self-esteem,” she admitted in Halftime. “I really believed a lot of what they said, which is I wasn’t any good.”

The most poignant moment for me came when the megastar was reading an article from Glamour where the publication called her a “criminally underrated performer.” Her tears were the tears of an artist who has busted her ass for decades on end to get the respect of her peers. She has played inside the box, then thought playing outside would get her more reverence. Still, she has been perceived to be the girl who somehow got “lucky.” After all that—40+ movies, millions of records sold and a prolific Vegas residency later—Glamour gave her the one thing she's wanted: acknowledgment. To be seen as worthy of her status, as someone who has earned her keep.

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Kevin Winter / Staff/Getty Images

Society makes so much about empowered women, personal growth and the importance of being kind to people. But it seems to me like that grace hasn’t been granted to J.Lo. So she’s not the best singer in the world and perhaps she’s dedicated her career to making rom-coms that make us laugh and not sweeping dramas. Does that mean her contributions are not valuable? We talk so much about being fearless, going after the things that make you happy and not caring about what people say. We encourage young girls to put themselves first, never settle and never stay in relationships that don’t serve you. And here’s a woman who’s done all that and yet, even the most progressive among us give her so much flack.

Whether or not we want to admit it, Lopez deserved a solo bill at the Super Bowl. She earned it. (And so did Shakira). That Oscars snub for Hustlers was a setback not only for Latinx women, but also for women of color that year. And just because she hasn’t crumbled in front us doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve the same grace we’ve granted Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes and others.

In my opinion, Jennifer Lopez’s biggest superpower isn’t that she’s maintained a cool disposition this entire time. It’s that she’s New York tough and simply refuses to let you write her off. She’s the people’s champ!

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Resident Hufflepuff, Beyonce historian, self-proclaimed tea sommelier

Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...